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2022 Atlanta Dream and WNBA Previews


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Mirroring the early Mike Woodson years with the Hawks, a good way to get canned was to lose at home to Tanisha Wright's Dream. The Indiana Fever did it in consecutive games a couple weeks ago, the second game in Indy by 22 points. Shortly thereafter, incoming GM Lin Dunn handed walking papers to lame duck coach Marianne Stanley, and Carlos Knox the interim head coach tag.

Losing at home won't feel as bad for upcoming hosts of Atlanta. Facing a four-game road excursion, the Dream (6-4) will aim to cling to an above-.500 record for as long as possible. The most immediate way to do that is to hold serve at home this afternoon (3 PM Eastern, Bally Sports South), closing out their four-game homestand in victorious fashion versus a Fever team (3-9) that has dropped its last three games on the road.

Before dropping consecutive games to Atlanta, Indiana's last road win was in New York versus the struggling Liberty. But the schedule has been unforgiving to the Fever, who somehow had to play on back-to-back nights in Washington and New York. Even with having four games off coming into today's action, Indiana is the only team that has had to squeeze 13 games into their schedule by day's end.

Knox's club ran out of gas after pouring on nearly 50 first-half points on the Libs, scoring just 27 the rest of the way in Wednesday's 87-74 loss to snap New York's seven-game skid. The Fever did get reinforcement with the season debut of guard Bria Hartley, while Victoria Vivians, after years of struggling to gain traction, has provided a consistently solid presence in a starting role at the wing.

Unfortunately, the frontcourt depth behind rookies NaLyssa Smith (9.2 RPG) and Queen Egbo has evaporated, Knox over-relying on fellow rookie Emily Engstler and former Dream player Alaina Coates for relief. To dissipate the Fever, Atlanta will need to exploit the interior early and often, via guard penetration and initiating touches for Rhyne Howard closer to the basket. Cheyenne Parker and the Dream can close out the game early if they can stay even in the rebounding battles while winning in paint points.

 

Let's Go Dream!

~lw3

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Exciting game!  Win when you face a lesser opponent, and they did!  Next game tipoff is @ 10 PM. so I will hope to watch the replay.  Howard, in a scoring slump, came alive in the 2nd half.

WAY TO GO DREAM !!

🥰

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Backup guard Noelle Quinn joined forces in the backcourt with starter Tanisha Wright on coach Brian Agler's Seattle Storm in 2013 and 2014. The pair held the fort as star Sue Bird, then an 11-year WNBA veteran, sat out the 2013 season to recuperate from a knee procedure.

Fast forward almost a decade later, and Quinn and Wright aim to be the vanguard of the new movement of veterans retiring and shifting to lead coaching roles. Meanwhile, Sue Bird is still playing. She and the Storm will host the Dream (10 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast in ATL, CBS Sports Network) as Atlanta embarks on a four-game road swing.

Bird (37.8 3FG%, 12.5 2FG%) is not the fullcourt offensive threat of her heyday, particularly when tasked with doing much of anything inside the 3-point lines. But she can still dish, her 6.6 APG rivaling her career-high from 2018. And despite having missed time recently while in Health 'n Safety Protocols, she's got perennial MVP finalist Breanna Stewart (WNBA-high 20.4 PPG) to pick up the scoring slack. With 27 points, Stewie scored over half of Seattle's anemic output in Friday's 68-51 home loss to Dallas.

Both stars got help from defensive ace Ezi Magbegor (WNBA-high 2.9 BPG) on Sunday, but her team-high 19 points and 3 blocks in her own return from Protocols were not enough to avoid faltering in the fourth quarter to Connecticut and falling to 5-5 on the season in a 93-86 defeat. It looks a lot more concerning for the Storm when one considers they haven't had to leave the Emerald City since May 11. They'll hit the road for a five-game trip after tonight.

The Dream guards put too much on themselves to dominate the game against Indiana, leading to a sloppy 75-66 victory featuring 43 turnovers (22 by ATL). They'll be needed more intentionally to offset Bird and Jewell Loyd, as will frontcourt scorers Cheyenne Parker, Nia Coffey and Mo Billings (#1 in WNBA D-Rating, bball-ref recipe) in drawing Stewart and Magbegor out of the paint.

 

Let's Go Dream!

~lw3

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This could be the one decent chance during this road trip that the Atlanta Dream can match last season's win tally. But the Phoenix Mercury (10 PM Eastern, Bally Sports South in ATL, CBS Sports Network) don't plan on making things easy. Not like a couple weeks ago.

The injury-riddled and BG-shortened Merc just snapped their seven-game losing streak, beating the LA Sparks in a final straw for Derek Fisher's Coach/GM gig. That win probably kept first-year coach Vanessa Nygaard in good graces with Phoenix's brass, but now she'll have to proceed without starting forward Sophie Cunningham. Besides Brittney Griner, the Mercury was already having to make-do without swing player Kia Nurse and the now-returned guard Shey Peddy.

The good news for Phoenix is that last season's league-leading scorer, Tina Charles, is likely back tonight after having missed a couple games with a shoulder injury. Much like Seattle a few days ago, the Mercury head out for a road trip, and after five off-days to prepare, the sense of urgency is high to conclude their three-game homestand on a high note before the Footprint Center crowd.

Almost any result for Phoenix will be better than the 81-54 shellacking they suffered at the hands of the Dream in College Park back on May 29. A combined 3-for-17 from the field on that day, Skylar Diggins-Smith (29 points vs. LAS on 10-for-16 FGs, 6-for-6 FTs) and Diana Taurasi (19 points, 7 assists vs. LAS) seem to have worked through whatever had them openly feuding last month. A more consistent start from Charles (2-for-11 FGs @ ATL) and more insistent ball movement would enliven the offense and reveal a team ready to bounce back from its 3-8 season start.

The Dream (7-5) teased the Storm for the better part of 40 minutes before bowing out with a 72-60 defeat on Tuesday. They were done in by everyone aside from Kristy Wallace going a combined 0-for-14 on three-point shots, despite winning the turnover and rebounding battles. More distributing will be needed from Aari McDonald while Erica Wheeler (questionable) recovers from a foot sprain suffered early in the Seattle game. But if we're fortunate, coach Tanisha Wright will have backcourt reinforcement in the form of ATL-native "AD" (formerly Asia) Durr, who the Dream acquired on Wednesday from New York.

(A little more on AD's journey while fighting with Long-Haul COVID is here: https://www.si.com/wnba/2022/05/05/ad-long-covid-identity-new-york-liberty-daily-cover)

The Durr trade cost the Dream Megan Walker, who sunk a pair of threes to help keep the Mercury at arm's length back home. With no word yet on the timeframe for Tiffany Hayes' return, McDonald and Rhyne Howard, along with Cheyenne Parker and former Mercury forward Nia Coffey, will have to get going from long-range to keep up with Phoenix's resurging offensive attack.

Let's Go Dream!

~lw3

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It’s time to turn the corner once more! With 14 games to go in the regular season, the Dream remain shabby, yet not TOO shabby, which is what ultimately counts for a ground-up rebuilding club. Having already surpassed their win tallies from the prior three seasons, sitting at 10-12 by All-Star Weekend after an intriguing 7-4 season start, Atlanta can proceed in whichever direction it sees fit from this point forward.

It’s a game of musical chairs for six WNBA teams, including Atlanta, pursuing the final three postseason slots. The veterans, including the newly returned Tiffany Hayes, will want to go all out in the chase for a playoff berth. To a person, for now, that should be the aim. But a daunting schedule awaits out of the Break.

The rest of the team joins All-Star rookie Rhyne Howard in Chicago for today’s game (8 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast in ATL). Then, there’s a home game versus Jonquel Jones and Connecticut on Friday, followed by another four-game Western road stretch that lasts for just eight days.

If coach Tanisha Wright’s crew somehow emerges from of that run of games, entering a homestand that begins at the close of this month, none the worse for wear, then it will be reasonable to firm up that first playoff seed since 2018’s aberrative carpet ride under her predecessor Nicki Collen. There would be enough time for GM Dan Padover to make some strategic calls, ahead of the league’s August 1 Trade Deadline, that wouldn’t dangle precious future draft capital.

In a more likely scenario, where the Dream finds itself in the outside looking in by month’s end, there would be time for Padover to use the playoff-hungry vets on the roster, particularly those with expiring contracts (Hayes, Erica Wheeler, Monique Billings and Nia Coffey), to pursue draft capital and build for the future more assertively around Howard.

 

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WHAT’S WORKED?

We could state the obvious, that Rhyne Howard (15.1 PPG, tops among rookies, tied-14th in WNBA) is as good as advertised. Much like the situation with Michael Harris at the polar opposite end of the capital-P Perimeter, ATL sports fans can kick back and enjoy whatever output this eager young prodigy can produce on any given outing.

But let’s come back to Howard, instead looking wider at the ambience inside Gateway Center Arena. The new Dream officials, led by Team President and Chief Operating Officer Morgan Shaw Parker, have the College Park venue looking and feeling more like a classy ultra-lounge than a stodgy, nondescript roundball gym. The WNBA fans braving BA.whatever to huddle together in South Fulton seats are leaving games with rave reviews, no matter the outcome of contests for the home squad.

This, alone, is a remarkable shift from the virtual Hindenburg path this franchise was headed, under murky ownership, mere months ago. Having had to settle for a talented big like NaLyssa Smith or Shakira Austin would have been fine as an initial step toward prominence. But the ability to direct Dream fans’ attention to a multi-level scorer and long-limbed defender like Rhyne charts the flight path more firmly back toward the sky.

Wright has looked and played the part of a first-year coach who takes the challenge of turning things around seriously. The first big tell is where Wright’s player-era specialty lies, on the defensive end. The Dream have allowed under 80 points per contest, good for fourth in the W, while only Seattle and Washington have a better defensive rating than Atlanta’s 96.3 opponent points per 100 possessions.

Most emblematic of this roster’s defensive commitment, “Coach T” has enervated second-year pro Aari McDonald, the 5-foot-6 guard who is a worthy candidate for Most Improved Player. Becoming a double-digit scorer (11.1 PPG, slightly behind only New York sharpshooter Marine Johannes among WNBA sophs) while elevating her field goal percentage from 32.2 to the current 42.7 have been encouraging developments. But more eye-opening is McDonald’s willingness to dig down on D. Her 1.7 steals per game ranks fourth in the WNBA, not too far ahead of Howard’s 1.5 (tied-10th in WNBA).

Thanks in large part to Aari, Rhyne and Erica, Dream opponents aren’t finding the looks from the perimeter as clear as last season, their 3FG percentage down to 33.9% (down from 2021’s league-high of 38.6%) and, impressively, contributing to a league-low 41.2 FG% overall. The return of Tiffany Hayes, now with three games under her belt, only helps to keep the squeeze on opposing three-point shooters going, as well as fastbreak ball handlers (8.4 opponent fastbreak points per-40, 2nd-lowest in WNBA).

Cheyenne Parker is among the handfuls of players in the league averaging at least one steal and one block per game, and one of only two (including Indiana rookie Queen Egbo) doing that in under 25 minutes per contest. She isn’t a high-volume rebounder, but the team is compensating well on the defensive boards, its 74.3 D-Reb% second only to Las Vegas while attributing to a league-low 27.8 opponent paint points per-40. Leading the charge, and occasionally outright charges drawn, is Monique Billings (team-high 6.5 RPG despite averaging under 18 minutes/game), who leads WNBA qualifiers with her 27.2 D-Reb%.

 

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WHAT HASN’T WORKED?

There has to be a flip side to 10-12, and that side lies on the offensive end of the floor. Atlanta registers a league-worst 94.3 team O-Rating, behind only basement-dwelling Indiana with a 47.0 eFG% (45.0 2FG%, 11th in NBA). Going bagel-for-12 on threes in last Wednesday’s 85-66 home loss to Washington only greased the skids.

Intentional movement without the ball is near non-existent, and when Rhyne (37.7 FG%, incl. 33.8% on triples) can’t simply pull up and snipe away, ball handlers find themselves bottled up on double teams, and engaging in improvisational comedy (league-worst 20.6 team TO%) as the shot clock winds down. Whose Ball Is It, Anyway?

Atlanta is the only WNBA team who produces under 60 percent (59.3%) of their made field goals via assists. Wheeler (team-high 3.9 APG, 2.6 TOs/game), rookie Kristy Wallace (2.4 APG, 1.5 TOs/game), AD Durr (2.0 APG, 1.4 TOs/game), and cup-of-tea UGA pickup Maya Caldwell have all had winning moments while helping take defensive pressure off of Howard and McDonald, but none have cut the mustard as a play initiator or interior finisher.

While there has been plenty to like defensively, Atlanta’s Pachulian philosophy of Nothing Easy has translated into plenty of foul shots for foes (WNBA-high 26.4 opponent FTAs per 100 possessions, ameliorated by a mild 77.1 opponent FT%; 25.0 team personals/game, 2nd-most in WNBA).

Coach T has done yeoman’s work substituting Kia Vaughn and Beatrice Mompremier to address illness and injury setbacks in the frontcourt, allowing Parker some worthy rest and keeping her out of daily foul trouble. But the Dream have blocked opponents’ shots on just three occasions in the last four games, and all three were in one game, in New York back on June 30. Forward Nia Coffey had regressed considerably before exiting in mid-June with a knee injury, while second-round rookie Naz Hillmon has been unready for prime time.

 

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JUST BE TANKFUL FOR WHAT WE’VE GOT?

2023’s early projected Draft crop comes with fewer immediate-impact bigs, after South Carolina’s Aaliyah Boston comes off the boards. Meanwhile, there’s no telling whether point guard Paige Bueckers will hang out in Storrs for her senior season, the prospect of NIL cash more tantalizing than anything a WNBA club has to offer.

Theoretically, therefore, there is no need to drastically race to meet Indiana at the top of the WNBA Draft odds chart. As it stands, Atlanta has two 2023 first-rounders, the juicier one currently from Los Angeles (February’s Chennedy trade) which the Mystics (January’s Rhyne trade) holds the right to swap. There will be opportunities next spring for Padover to build around Howard with strategic additions, or to package picks to move upwards once more. If there’s any one team Atlanta would do well to dip below in the standings, it’s the Sparks.

That said, let’s see how the coming weeks play out. Even Parker, on a 2023 expiring contract, could yield a building block around Howard at Deadline time, and wheel-spinning clubs like Phoenix, Los Angeles, and Dallas ought to be far more interested in a final dash toward securing 2022 playoff-game revenue than Atlanta. Whether this season concludes with a surprising postseason trip, or not, the Dream, as a team, can sit with a Rhyne stone in the back and dig the scene, with a gangster lean.

 

~lw3

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One time for BG, Big Syl! It's Midseason WNBA Power Poll time!

 

Chicago Sky (17-6) – Of the champs’ defeats, which are few and far between of late, none have come by ten or more points, only two by more than five points, and none of those since the end of May. A balanced team around Candace Parker (WNBA-best +8.4 plus/minus) and Kahleah Copper, they’re the league’s best shooters at all three levels (3FG%, 2FG%, FT%), and they shoo opposing shooters off the perimeter and into lots of inefficient two-point attempts. Recipe for a repeat?

Seattle Storm (16-8) – With all respect due to Parker and others, go ahead and hand league scoring leader Breanna Stewart the MVP honors. Stewie’s anchoring both ends of the floor, topping the league in Offensive and Defensive Win Shares while behind only former Dream player Brittney Sykes with 1.9 steals per game. From the perimeter, can the retiring Sue Bird’s defense and shot-sniping (a still-scintillating 40.4 3FG%, somehow lowest since 2017) hold up at playoff time?

Las Vegas Aces (16-7) – Should it have been Team Wilson or Team Plum at All-Star Game weekend? The flourish that began as a reserve under Bill Laimbeer, for 2017’s #1-overall Kelsey Plum (career-highs 20.2 PPG, 5.6 APG), continues as a starter under Becky Hammon’s watch as ASG MVP and a likely All-WNBA 1st Team selection. The other (Number) ones, rebounding leader A’ja Wilson and Jackie Young, help pile on the points. Are the depth and D adequate for a title contender?

Washington Mystics (15-10) – Try as one might, getting decent shots off against Alysha Clark, Natasha Cloud and Ariel Atkins is a chore. Having Elizabeth Williams, Tianna Hawkins and Myisha Hines-Allen as bench rotations while rookie Shakira Austin starts is a downright luxury. Don’t look now, but Elena Delle Donne has found her sea legs and is shifting back from solid to spectacular as a scorer. This must be 2022’s Tough Out Team in the playoffs, where you can’t beat them just once.

Connecticut Sun (14-8) – Nobody was ready to “C Us Rise” when this club rattled of 14 regular-season wins to close out 2021. Nobody besides the Sky, that is to say. Last year’s MVP Jonquel Jones continues to ably cover the whole floor and the box scores, and Alyssa Thomas is almost all the way back after missing most of last season. But with the early-season loss of Jasmine Thomas, guards Courtney Williams and Natasha Hiedeman have to take their defensive duties seriously.

Los Angeles Sparks (10-13) – Former Dream coach Fred Williams hasn’t fully steered the team steady after Derek Fisher was canned last month. All-Star Nneka Ogwumike has had her best full season in years, and whatever issues stemmed from controversy around Liz Cambage seem to have ebbed. But a glaring omission from the starting unit, Chennedy Carter has yet to be more than an inside-scoring sparkplug guard reserve. Kristi Toliver’s return complicates things for her even further.

Dallas Wings (10-13) – We keep saying, “any minute now,” and thought scary hours had arrived when this team reached 5-2 at the season’s start. But the 5-11 stretch (including 1-4) currently keeps things dour in Big D. Super scorer Arike Ogunbowale has a co-star in the resurrgent Allisha Gray, logging career-best numbers nearly across the board. But as other #1 picks around the league seem to be thriving, center Charli Collier from 2021’s Draft stays buried in Vickie Johnson’s DNP doghouse.

ATLANTA DREAM (10-13) – For a team whose turnovers are catching up with their assists on offense, defense isn’t winning championships around here anytime soon. But the foundation instilled by coach Tanisha Wright sets the stage for a far brighter future, no matter who gets to ring-chase with Rhyne in the seasons to come.

Minnesota Lynx (9-15) – The retiring Sylvia Fowles is going out with a bangout, as demonstrated during All-Star Weekend. Meanwhile, her club, winners of three straight and five of their past seven, hopes not to go out with a whimper by the regular season’s close. Thanks to gritty help from breakout forward Jessica Shepard, this is the best rebounding club among the league’s non-elites. Can Napheesa Collier return from maternity leave, creating a playoff spoiler, before it gets too late?

Phoenix Mercury (10-15) – The league’s official Doin’ Too Much team, a return trip to the Playoffs, to say nothing of the Finals, seems unlikely. From Diana Taurasi feuding and fuming, All-Star Skylar Diggins-Smith pig-tweeting her coach, Sophie Cunningham F-bombing Tina Charles following the latter’s escape-hatch trip to Seattle, that’s a lot of distractions for a club whose biggest distraction is unfortunately stuck in a Moscow hoosegow. If the defensive flaws can be fixed in time, though…

New York Liberty (9-14) – While also leading the league in free throw accuracy, Sabrina Ionescu becoming Triple-Double Trouble is among the season’s most welcoming developments. Her team rivaling the Dream with copious turnovers, while producing precious few in turn, isn’t the best sign that another surprise trip to the playoffs is on deck. They lost in an eliminator to Sandy Brondello’s Mercury in 2021, and the new Liberty coach, in any case, has to be thrilled she bailed Phoenix in time.

Indiana Fever (5-19) – Things haven’t fared much better under Carlos Knox’s coaching tenure since Marianne Stanley’s ouster back in May. Knox helped usher Fisher exit with his first win after Stanley’s 2-7 start, but they’ve gone 2-12 since, and they’re about to lose their seventh-straight today. It’s a shame given Kelsey Mitchell is having an All-Star-worthy career year. Looming on the horizon for the Baylor rookies, NaLyssa Smith and Queen Egbo: is there room at the inn for Aliyah Boston?

 

~lw3

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57 minutes ago, lethalweapon3 said:

While also leading the league in free throw accuracy, Sabrina Ionescu becoming Triple-Double Trouble is among the season’s most welcoming developments.

Ya I heard about that. Wait, that wasn’t the first or anything in ladies was it? They kept talking about it like it was a record. Perhaps I missed something. Either way, Kobe would be proud of that no doubt. Nice work Sabrina.

Go Dream!

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14 minutes ago, Spud2nique said:

Ya I heard about that. Wait, that wasn’t the first or anything in ladies was it? They kept talking about it like it was a record. Perhaps I missed something. Either way, Kobe would be proud of that no doubt. Nice work Sabrina.

Go Dream!

Indeed, it's hard to mess around and get one, particularly given the shorter regulation minutes (40 versus 48 in the gentlemen's circuit) plus the slower pace of certain teams. Candace Parker just got her WNBA-best third last month, and she's been in the W since 2008. Sabrina's in just her second (full) season, and tied that all-time mark last week, the rebounding aspect all the more impressive for a 5-foot-11 guard.

~lw3

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